At first glance, bee colonies and the human brain do not seem to have much in common.
However, a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports has found that when bees colonies are examined as a whole – or in other words, they are considered as a single superorganism – they show it a behavior that is remarkably similar to the behavior of the human brain on external stimuli.
The findings may shed light on some of the basic findings
"The term superorganism describes a group of social insects as a unique, complex organism," says Andreagiovanni Reina, a research associate in Collective Robotics at the University of Sheffield, Sheffield's computer science department and lead author Newsweek
"The individual insects are organisms; when a group of these organisms work in synergy to help one another in survival, foraging, and reproduction, the group may be considered as a whole ̵
The researchers used a theoretical model that is commonly used in psychology to study how honey bees choose a location to build their nest. They found similarities between how individual bees communicate with each other when making collective decisions and how nerve cells or nerve cells interact in the human brain.
According to Reina, these parallels between bees in a colony and neurons support the view that bee colonies are a superorganism and, moreover, show how the behavior of such superorganisms obeys the same laws that describe the functioning of the human brain.
This important finding could help researchers to better understand so-called psychophysical laws that were previously believed to apply only to individual organisms ,
"Psychophysics examines the relationship between the intensity of a stimulus and its perception in the human brain," Reina said. "This relationship has been explained by a series of psychophysical laws that are contained in a wide range of sensory areas such as sound loudness, pitch, image brightness, duration, weight, and others.
"Recently, numerous studies have shown that a wide range of organisms at different levels of complexity also obey these laws," he said.
These laws do not apply to individual neurons but to the brain as a whole. Similarly, the new study shows that although psychophysical laws do not apply to individual bees, they can describe the behavior of a bee colony as a whole.
One of the laws the researchers tested on bee colonies is Weber's Law, which describes how the brain is able to make the best choice when deciding between a number of decisions, even if only one very little difference in quality.
This law applies to both individuals and other mammals. Fish, birds and insects. "Surprisingly, even non-brain organisms can show such behavior: for example, slime molds and other single-celled organisms."
Weber's law has never been successfully investigated at the colony level, according to the researchers. The new study found, however, that it could describe the behavior of bee colonies in search of a nest.
Similarly, Reina and his colleagues also tested Piéron's law, which states that the brain can make decisions faster if there are two possibilities of high quality, while it takes longer if two choices are of poor quality.
Again, the law was applied to bee colonies: The study found that bee colonies were faster at selecting nesting sites Decisions are made between two high-quality nesting sites than between two low-quality sites.
Finally, the team also tested Hick's law, which states that the brain's decision-making speed is slower as the number of alternative options increases. Researchers also observed in the bee colonies: The colonies took longer to choose a nesting location when the number of alternative nesting sites increased.
Because studying superorganisms such as bee colonies is easier than studying Br neurons, the new insights could help scientists better understand the principles behind such laws.